by Jarod Hamilton
On Thursday Night, the 2018 NBA Draft will capture the attention of millions of people across the world. NBA teams will be looking to to catch up to the Golden State Warriors who have now won their third championship in four years. With that being said this draft class looks strong with plenty of marquee talent throughout the lottery (picks 1-15). These are my projections for the first 14 picks and how they can help these lottery teams take the next step.
1. Phoenix Suns – C Deandre Ayton (Arizona)
The 7’1” big man won’t have to relocate far when he suits up in the fall. Phoenix clearly needs a big man, veteran Tyson Chandler is on an overpaid contract entering his 17th year, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft Alex Len has not panned out, and neither has former top five pick Dragan Bender. Ayton has an NBA ready body, he has soft hands, and converted 34% of his three pointers and shot over 73% from the free throw line. Despite putting up 20 points per game, he struggles in double teams, does not really understand his true strength down low, and defensively he is an average defender despite his athleticism. But Ayton projects to be the second coming of David Robinson.
2. Sacramento Kings – PF Marvin Bagley (Duke)
Due to team need the Kings should go with Bagley. Bagley led the ACC in points
per game and rebounds per game, the first player to do that since Tyler Hansbrough a decade ago. The left-handed forward has a sound offensive game with soft hands, polished footwork, and an excellent mid-range game. Not to mention his effort on the glass on both of ends of the court is exceptional. Bagley could be the second coming of Chris Bosh, he just needs to add some weight and become more active on defense.
3. Atlanta Hawks – C Mo Bamba (Texas)
Bamba is a physical specimen. Standing at 7’1” with a 7’9” wingspan he averaged nearly four blocks per game. While the Hawks could go a few routes with this pick, it makes sense to get solidify your defense and frontcourt with John Collins. Bamba could be the Eastern Conference Rudy Gobert. High motor, a little more polished offensively than Gobert, and has a good handle for a big. He needs to fill out his weight more because he only weighs 225 pounds.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – SF Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri)
The Grizzlies need help across the board. While Marc Gasol is the franchise centerpiece he is 33 years old and Michael Conley is often injured. While Porter is coming off an injury that only allowed him to play less than 55 minutes the entire season. He was also the number one player coming out of high school a year ago. At 6’10” he’s excellent from mid-range, he has excellent court vision, and he’s a good shot blocker. What Porter does lack is an extensive offensive repertoire. He tries to only shoot over the defense and does not have another method for getting go-to buckets. If Porter’s injury proves to be a fluke then the Grizzlies could end up getting a steal in the top five.
5. Dallas Mavericks – PF Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan St.)
Jackson will be the big man the Mavs have been longing over since DeAndre Jordan reneged on a deal with the team a few seasons ago. Jackson can finish with either hand and is mobile and athletic enough to switch off pick and rolls. He’s fairly young as he will not turn 19 until September and they will have ample time to develop him. He’s not as aggressive as he could be and commits turnovers when in traffic. Jackson did convert 39 % of his three pointers and 79% of his free throws. When Jackson feels out his frame he should be an above average starter for the next decade.
6. Orlando Magic – G Luka Doncic (Slovenia)
Before the draft lottery I had Doncic going number two overall but because of draft needs I see him slipping to sixth. The Magic desperately need a playmaker and with the loss of Elfrid Payton they have no passer. Doncic has an array of offensive moves that he could go to for a bucket and has an NBA ready body now at 6’7” and 225 pounds. He lacks speed and quickness which limits his ability to defend and or attack the basket. If the Magic are lucky, Doncic could turn into the European sensation they hoped Mario Hezonja would be when they drafted him years ago.
7. Chicago Bulls – PF Wendell Carter (Duke)
While Bagley was the headliner at Duke Carter was a star in his own right during his lone season with the Blue Devils. Carter plays with high energy and is a good finisher around the rim. He’s good at getting post position and is great at making plays out of the post and not forcing a shot he does not have. He can read passing lanes and is good at contesting shots in the paint. He could use more finesse moves since he will not always have a size advantage over bigger NBA players. However, He could fit nicely with this young Bulls team and form a nice one-two punch with Lauri Markkanen.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers – PG Collin Sexton (Alabama)
The Cavaliers will be killing two birds with one stone at this point, with LeBron’s impending free agency decision in the air the Cavaliers can draft for the future if LeBron leaves or they’d be drafting help for LeBron. They’d also be replacing Kyrie, something Isaiah Thomas, George Hill, and Jose Calderon could not do. Sexton has good court vision, has an innate ability to attack the rim, and has a solid mid range game. He loves the bright lights so playing with LeBron or playing following his departure gives him a chance to shine regardless. He will need to learn to pass the ball more since he’s known as more of a scoring guard than a true passing point guard. The Cavaliers could be getting an Eric Bledsoe in a younger form.
9. New York Knicks – PG Trae Young (Oklahoma)
The Knicks will try to rewrite their wrong from the 2009 Draft when they did not take Steph Curry. The Knicks should select Trae Young if he is there at nine. Young, like Curry can shoot when given even the tiniest bit of air space. He has great handle and can shoot from Curry’s range as well. He averaged over 27 points and 8 assists per game. He’s not lanky or big as he only weighs 180 pounds and he is a liability on defense. He’s not fast enough to slow someone like a De’Aaron Fox down and he’s not big enough to stop a Kyle Lowry.
10. Philadelphia 76ers – G/F Mikal Bridges (Villanova)
An integral part of playoff team’s playoff push is having a 3-and-D player, a player who can knock down open three pointers and lock down the other teams best perimeter threat. Bridges fits that role nicely. Bridges is a two time National Champion and has a more polished game than most players getting drafted in the top ten. Bridges shot over 50% from the field, over 40 %, from three, and over 84% from the charity stripe. He’s not very physical, limited to catching and shooting as opposed to creating his own shot, and is not known as a playmaker for others.
11. Charlotte Hornets – SF Kevin Knox (Kentucky)
For the second year in a row I believe the Hornets will take another one and done player from John Calipari. Knox is a 6’9” forward who could play a small ball power forward position. He is a matchup nightmare with the length he possesses and can create his own shot. He doesn’t turn 19 until August and you are banking on developing him and capitalizing on his potential. He can be a streaky shooter at times, when he’s hot he’s hot, when he’s cold, he’s freezing and that can affect other factors of his game.
12. Los Angeles Clippers – SF Miles Bridges ( Michigan St.)
Bridges can be the Clippers Draymond Green (another Michigan State alum). He is 6’6” and 230 pounds, with quick feet, power, and defensive prowess. He can guard both forward spots and he can switch on to guards no problem in pick and roll situations. He has a silky smooth left handed jumper and is excellent from the line. He is undersized and his wingspan won’t blow you away and he will never be the focal point on offense.
13. Los Angeles Clippers – SG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky)
Barring any trades the Clippers only two picks of the draft will take place consecutively in the lottery. With their second selection they should take Gilgeous-Alexander who is a good scorer and can pick up the scoring load for the second unit. He’s a great defender and he forces turnovers at the perimeter. He is quite frail, standing at 6’6” and 180 pounds and he forces too many turnovers trying to make the spectacular play.
14. Denver Nuggets – C Robert Williams (Texas A&M)
The Nuggets have a good guard rotation and they already have a franchise cornerstone in Nikola Jokic, what they could use is another high energy defender and rim runner. Williams would be perfect for this role, He has the size at 6’9” and 240 pounds to guard bigger forwards and some centers and he moves light on his feet for alley oops and put back dunks. He’s a shot blocker and an aggressive rebounder, he could easily replace Kenneth Faried. On the flipside he is raw talent and just uses his athleticism to win matchups. He can get lazy when he’s not getting touches offensively and he needs to develop a faceup game or postgame that he can go to repeatedly when in need of a bucket.